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Each day TFO Canada publishes a sample of trade news on the Canadian import market along with any new, updated or changed regulations and legislations regarding international trade; countries in which TFO Canada offers services and on the export sectors which it promotes.


India-Kenya: An Ancient and Enduring Friendship

Thursday, August 16, 2018 > 09:18:17

The Star

As we celebrate the 72nd anniversary of India’s Independence today, we are also celebrating a bilateral landmark – the Indian Mission in Nairobi marks 70 years this month. It was in August 1948 that Apa Saheb Pant, appointed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s Commissioner General to the then British East African Protectorate, arrived by ship in Kenya and opened a resident mission in Nairobi.

Apa Saheb Pant famously referred to India and Kenya as “next shore neighbours”. As two Indian Ocean littoral states, exchanges between India and the East Coast of Africa, particularly Kenya, are not new. They have been recorded as far back as in the Periplus of the Erythraen Sea – gold, ivory and ostrich feathers from East Africa were bartered for spices, gemstones and cotton textiles from India. Communities from both sides of the Indian Ocean settled in each other’s lands: The Bohra traders of Gujarat settled in Lamu as early as the 12th Century CE and the people of East Africa, known as Siddhis, settled down in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

The freedom movement in India influenced events in Kenya: Harry Thuku admired Mahatma Gandhi, while Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga were in touch with Indian leaders. In fact, for the Kapenguria trial, PM Nehru sent Diwan Chaman Lal, Indian lawyer and MP, to defend Kenyatta and the other five leaders.

Indians migrated to Kenya in the late 19th Century to build the Mombasa-Uganda railway as well as to lay the foundation for trade and business into the hinterland. Over time, they became part of the political, social and economic fabric of the country. Makhan Singh, the region’s first trade union leader, Pio Gama Pinto and businessman philanthropist Jeevanjee were all well-known Indian leaders.

Trade, business and the colonial legacy have resulted in many Hindi words becoming part of the Swahili vocabulary: Duka, pesa, chapati, samosa, kachumbari. The Indian rupee was legal tender in the 1920s in Kenya. Biashara street in the Central Business District was once known as the Indian Bazaar. Many young Kenyans may be surprised to know that the first cuttings of the famous tea plantations of Kericho came from Assam.

Indian banks have been operating in Kenya since 1953. And Nairobi was Air India’s second overseas destination after London. We are hopeful of the airline’s return! Traditionally, India has been one of Kenya’s largest trade partners. What is less advertised is that India is also the third largest source of FDI into Kenya, about $3 billion (Sh302 billion) has been invested in Kenya by Indians.

According to some, Indian FDI has created most jobs in Kenya. This has been the Indian approach. Wherever our companies go, they encourage and depend upon local talent and expertise. This is particularly relevant in Kenya, which is rich in human resources.

In the last few years, political interaction has been intense. PM Narendra Modi came to Kenya in July 2016 on a state visit, while President Uhuru Kenyatta visited India twice – in October 2015 for the third India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) and in January last year for a state visit.

India is extending several concessional lines of credit: For the revival of Rivatex Factory in Eldoret, for power transmission projects, development of the SME sector and agricultural mechanisation. Our portfolio is around $220 million (Sh22.1 billion).

The health sector is an area of interest to both countries. We are happy that thousands of Kenyan patients have returned from India after successful treatment. We understand that Kenya would like to replicate the Indian experience in healthcare and become a medical hub in the region.

Like in India, cancer is a major cause of deaths in Kenya. That is why my government gifted a state-of-the-art telecobalt machine – the Bhabhatron - to Kenyatta National Hospital. The Bhabhatron is a workhorse that treats 70 patients per day. We trained around 20 oncologists in 2017. We are also working with the Kenya Defence Forces on defence medical cooperation.

India has been particularly known in Kenya for its strengths in capacity building. The government of India began its bursary scheme for Kenyan students in 1948. Since 1964, when India launched its Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, we have trained thousands of Kenyan officials. Last year alone, we trained more than 400 Kenyans both from the national as well as county governments. These are fully funded programmes on diverse subjects from accounting, mass communication, rural development, IT, port management, renewable energy, etc.

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